Who is Jesus?
June 9, 2013 Ordinary Time
Roy W. Howard
We are in that season whenthe colors of the church are green and the texts tell us extraordinary stories about how to live faithfully when life is ordinary. Dishes and duties, grading papers and studying for exams, pulling up weeds and watering flowers, enduring the heat and yearning for the pool or any body of nearby water nearby. Of course, in some very real ways – like changing diapers and taking out the garbage, rising early and coming home late, taking pills on time and holding cancer at bay – all time is ordinary punctuated by occasional grand celebrations.
The gospel stories throughout this season invite us to ask who is this Jesus who has come among us in the flesh? Just what is his life all about and what does it have to do with the ways we live our lives. They ask these probing questions with a single purpose: to make real God’s presence in this world.
For instance, take the story from a little village in Israel called Nain some five miles from Nazareth and about twenty-five miles from Capernaum where Jesus has been teaching and healing the sick. He has walked the entire distance with his disciples and is entering this village when he is interrupted by ordinary life.
Listen to Eugene Peterson’s translation of this story in the seventh chapter of Luke’s gospel.
Not long after he left Capernaum, Jesus went to the village Nain. His disciples were with him, along with quite a large crowd. As they approached the village gate, they met a funeral procession – a woman’s only son was being carried out for burial. And the mother was a widow. When Jesus saw her, his heart broke. He said to the mother, “Don’t cry.” Then he went over and touched the coffin. The pallbearers stopped. Jesus said, “Young man. I’m telling you: Rise up!” The dead son sat up and began talking. Jesus presented him to his mother.
Then the people all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful, in awe – and then they were noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, “God is here, looking to the needs of His people!” Then the news of Jesus spread throughout the country. (Luke 7.11-17)
Funeral processions are not uncommon. In most of the world today they happen in much the same way as this one. I’ve come upon them in Haiti many times. The mourners follow behind the casket walking through the town all the way to the burial site. There is public grieving and songs of loud lamentation and ususally, as in Haiti and Louisiana, there is lively music and dancing in the streets as the dead one is carried to final resting place. Most of us are more familiar with a domesticated version of the funeral procession where we gather in our cars, roll up the windows, turn on the air conditioning and travel alone, barely connected in a snake like crawl to the cemetery. The public is usually polite and often annoyed by the long train of cars.
So we can funeral procession are not common.
What Jesus did is not.
After a twenty-five mile walk and nearing his rest, he encounters the crowd walking alongside this grieving mother who, having lost her husband and now, losing her son, is in the most precarious place possible for a single woman: bereft of all economic support, emotionally vulnerable, and spiritually grieving. The standard translations say, “Jesus had compassion on her.” That is a tame translation of what really happened. The Greek word is “splagchnizomai” – be moved from your guts. It is the strongest possible word to convey the moment when Jesus feels the woman’s grief. Peterson’s translation is the best: “his heart broke.”
Who is Jesus? Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said this is the only question that really matters for any of us. Who is Jesus for me and how shall I respond?
Jesus is the One whose heart breaks over the suffering of the most vulnerable.
Not content only to pay his respects and move along, which would be customary, Jesus allowed his heart – the deep place within us all – to be broken by the suffering of this mother. No grief is greater than a parent experiencing the death of a child. Jesus did more than grieve at a distance. With his heart broken wide open, Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha before him, embraced the mother and restored life to her son.
So then who is Jesus?
Can we put it this way: when Jesus comes to town, the dead are brought to life, the grieving are consoled, the wounded are touched, life is restored and in his presence people are filled with awe, shouting praises to God and telling the Good News. As Peterson says, this is the Jesus way.
If this is the Jesus way what does it mean for you and me and the community of faith that lives the Jesus way? I understand that the dead are not going to burst their coffins at our command. Of course! We can’t raise the dead, only God can and will on the last day. But not all the dead are in coffins are they? The power of death is not confined to wooden box or a porcelain urn.
Some of the dead live among us:
Those whose grief is deep enough to puncture the bravest soul.
Those who sense life is at the dead-end of everything dear:
marriage, job, faith, hope.
Those who are crushed under the relentless assault of living in this area:
early up/ late to bed/ in car and nearly dead/ with the pace of it all.
The war weary and the war torn, the battered and bruised
whose hearts are dying for love/ having known only the darkest illusions of it.
Those who are now closer to dying than being born and are terrified at the prospect of letting this life go.
Those who can’t climb out of the neck of a narrow bottle that has them trapped in its addictive grasp.
These are the dead and the dying who are not lying in coffins, but everywhere among us and truth be told: right within us. Death is the place that Jesus comes to bring life, always and everywhere.
So what about the congregation that seeks to live the Jesus way, where Spirit and service come together? What is the Jesus way for us? How might we live in such a way that bears witness to the One whom we seek to follow?
I think this is the Jesus way:
to allow our hearts to be broken by the pain of mothers who lose their children
and yes, the fathers too.
to touch the grieving, the dying and the wounded – with our lives
to make room in our mind and heart for the holy mystery
that God is alive among us
to give thanks for this mystery
And to tell the Good News everywhere we go.
Will you walk this Jesus way with me?